Why People Leave Their Careers: The Connection Between Career Change, Organizational Change, and Burnout

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Have you ever known anyone who “suddenly” quit their jobs and the careers that they spent years developing?  Did they leap into the unknown even though they didn’t really know what they wanted to do next?

Has this ever happened to you?

Many people change jobs due to downsizing, the completion of advanced degrees, or changes in one’s personal life.  It is a natural next step and is cause for celebration.  However, this does not address the millions of workers who “suddenly” quit even if they haven’t planned a logical next step.

Based on my career consulting practice as well as the experiences of my friends and peers, many workers are taking this dramatic step in their careers.  The question is “why?”

  • Are American workers expecting “too much” from their work experiences?
  • Are companies providing insufficient resources and recognition to help employees meet an ever-increasing list of job demands?
  • Is the stress of working in the modern workplace reaching such a critical level that workers must choose between a job’s financial security and their own emotional and physical health?

These “sudden” career changes are often met with shock, fear, and even anger – by both the individual as well as his or her colleagues, peers, family, and friends.  But the “suddenness” of the change is actually the result of a series of events that built up to the proverbial breaking point.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the average U.S. worker will have 7 careers in his or her lifetime.  Not jobs – but careers.  This means that most workers will only be with an employer for approximately 4 to 5 years.  Interestingly, Kotter & Schlessinger (1979) found that companies undergo change initiatives at the same rate.

Is there a connection?

In my research on burnout during organizational change, over 92% of my participants changed jobs as a result of the burnout that they experienced during their employer’s change initiative.  50% changed industries or careers in an attempt to avoid additional burnout.

Even as employers attempt to better “engage” their workers, they continue to downsize, rightsize, outsource, and offshore.  Considering that 70% of change initiatives fail, is it any wonder that employees choose to “jump ship” rather than continue to experience the emotional, psychological, and physical effects of stress and burnout?

Puleo’s Pointers:  Shifts to Help You Better Navigate Constant Change

The lack of corporate stability and employee loyalty is a critical component of the modern workplace – but this reality is often ignored by employers and their workers.  To better navigate this era of constant, unrelenting change requires a shift in our assumptions, perceptions, and expectations.  Here are 3 ideas to help get you started:

  1. Recognize that change is the new status quo.  Don’t expect that either your business or job will remain the same.  Rather than viewing change as something to avoid, re-frame change as something that is an invigorating opportunity to learn something new.  This simple shift will help increase your confidence and feelings of control in response to both small and large changes.
  2. Specifically identify your priorities in terms of work-life commitments.  If you are an individual, understand what you can comfortably give to a job so that you also have time and energy for a personal life.  If you are responsible for business strategy, recognize the effects on the bottom line that are the direct results of employee creativity, enthusiasm, and commitment – are your expectations and performance standards creating an environment that is “employee-friendly?”
  3. Plan for change.  One of the biggest challenges to burned out workers who desperately want to leave their jobs is that they simply don’t have time to launch a job search.  Try spending 10 minutes a day thinking about what you want in terms of job responsibilities and work environment.  Not only will you feel that you have greater control over your professional life, but your energy will increase as you make you a priority in your daily activities.  If you are planning an organizational change, don’t forget to include the “soft metrics” or the human side of your change initiative when calculating the costs, benefits, and probability of success.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to www.gapuleo.com

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